Bimbos and Himbos:
Coincidence? You be the judge
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative
Loafing, Atlanta, Aug. 22, 1998)
Atlanta was host to two national events last weekend
-- the 18th National Barbie Doll Convention and the 20th Hotlanta River
Coincidence? I think not.
The former event, of course, honored the famous Mattel doll, alternately
reviled and adored the world over as the symbol (or stereotype) of perfect
young womanhood. The Hotlanta River Expo is the nation's largest and original
"circuit party," a weekend of mega-dance parties, including a river raft
race and a male beauty pageant, attended by thousands of tanned and hairless
gay muscleboys. Circuit boys, like Barbie, are alternately reviled and
emulated in the gay subculture. (Themed circuit parties are held all over
the world, throughout the year.)
In short, the city was full of bimbos and himbos last weekend. Nearly
was white, of course.
Granted, both groups are easy targets. Undoubtedly, several Barbie lovers
and circuit boys (who, with their short hair and ripped abs, often look
a lot like Ken) have already snatched up pens to write irate letters to
the editor. After all, the letters will say, Barbie is now a doctor. Nay!
She is an African-American doctor in kente cloth (in ne incarnation at
last week's exhibit). Damn it! She's even an astronaut! Hey, that's close
to a friggin' rocket scientist.
And, of course, there are any number of circuit boys who, when not wearing
(only) CK boxer shorts and combat boots on the street during a party weekend,
are making fully clothed life-and-death decisions in corporate boardrooms
and retail showrooms. And, the apologists always further argue, let's
not forget that an unstated percentage of sales of Hotlanta tickets benefits
AIDS organizations. Every circuit boy is just a dowdy AIDS activist trapped
in a himbo's body, isn't he? Yeah right.
Of course, the more common response by the bimbo/himbo is to accuse critics
of jealousy and bitterness. Bimbo Barbie and the circuit boy, young and
beautiful, surveying their perfectly perky worlds cannot imagine that
the rest of us don't want what they have.
And, let's face it. There's some truth in that. It's still impossible
to grow up female in America and not feel the pressure to become Barbie,
to notice that Barbie still often gets the prize. Gay male culture arguably
promotes values identical to the sexist ones that have made Barbie one
of feminists' favorite targets. With the exception of a few strident critiques
-- like Michelangelo Signorile's Life Outside (HarperCollins, 1997)
-- gay men remain astoundingly unreflective about the way they sexually
objectify one another.
of course, is what Barbie and the circuit boy have in common: bodies that
work for them as well as they worked for the busty robotic women in the
1975 film, The Stepford Wives. That very few women come naturally
by the classic Barbie figure is self-evident. Recall that Todd Haynes'
first film, Superstar, was an absurd-sounding but poignant biography of
bulimic Karen Carpenter played by a Barbie doll. The Carpenter family
successfully blocked the film, available now only in bootleg prints, from
Interestingly, Barbie, whose sales average almost $2 billion annually,
is undergoing her third makeover since 1959 this year. Mattel is giving
her a thicker waist, narrower hips, a less perky nose, a smaller chest
and a more subtle smile -- a capitulation, it would seem, to a less Stepfordized
appearance than her earlier incarnations.
Alas, the circuit boy reveals no such imminent change. Indeed, the rampant
use of steroids among young gay men to achieve the muscular looks prized
at circuit parties finds its apotheosis in the Billy doll displayed in
one booth at last week's Barbie convention. Billy, available as a blond
or a brunet, looks like a juiced Ken, a neckless thug. Advertised as "the
world's first out and proud gay doll," Billy has that special something
Ken lacks: "generously sized genitals." (There is also a gay Carlos. Unlike
Ken or Billy, Carlos has a goatee and an uncircumcised penis. How ethnic!)
Who, then, is the real man: Ken or Billy? You be the judge.
Or we could ask Barbie. But does she care? Barbie, of course, is not
anatomically correct herself, so, even were Billy not gay, his macrophallic
anatomy would be wasted on her. This of course, only leaves Billy with
Carlos, just as circuit boys are left only with one another in real life.
They are fundamentally mirror images. But that's the point, isn't it?
It is right that Ken and Barbie, both lacking genitalia, have one another.
This is as metaphorical as anything can be. Nice girls like Barbie still
don't go all the way -- at least not until they are married and have a
pink Corvette. So, no matter how much little girls may, in their feverish
fantasies imagine Barbie and Ken coupling, Mattel has declared that it's
not going to happen. Oh, sure, Ken can fondle Barbie's breasts -- they
have no nipples anyway -- but he's not getting the real thing. (By the
way, Barbie did have nipples at one point. "RARE NIPPLES," said occasional
signs, hawking the special dolls, at the convention.)
Yes, Barbie's a tease. You'd call her a prick tease, if Ken had one or
Billy was interested. If you doubt it, be advised that the winning custom
exhibit this year, had three Barbies decked out as the strippers in Gypsy,
performing the "Gimmick" number. This theme -- Barbie in sequin pasties
-- was ubiquitous. Not bad for a girl without nipples! She's the girl
next door playing innocently naughty for a moment.
Does Barbie have a sense of humor about herself? Doesn't she realize
it's absurd that she simply appears as an African-American in one box,
as Rapunzel in another, as a biker babe in yet another? Doesn't she realize
that this pretense of multiculturalism is a transparent merchandising
technique to Stepfordize all the young female children of America? She
even has a Stepfordized friend in a wheelchair, Becky, "the school photographer."
Come on! Barbie doesn't hang with crips! And circuit boys don't hang with
the unattractive and handicapped either.
At least one designer at the exhibit gave Barbie a twisted sense of humor.
He punked out her hair and tattooed her delicious plastic flesh. (One
tat decorated her décolletage with the Sacred Heart; another declared:
But my favorite exhibit was by Barbara King, a West Coast photographer
at the convention with her mother, a serious dealer in Barbie collectibles.
Barbara, who swears she is older than Barbie and thus was not named after
her, was selling big black and white pictures of Barbie on a sandwich
and being blowtorched. Another featured Barbie arms and legs stewing in
"Doesn't your mother mind?" I asked.
"Well," Barbara began. She paused while a real-life aging Barbie lookalike,
skin tanned to leather, gazed at the pictures in horror. The woman moved
away, perhaps to buy one of the nearby broaches made from heads sliced
from Barbie torsos. "Well, she did ask that I not bring the one of a naked
woman, bent over backward, with Ken strapped between her legs."
So, perhaps it is not so important that Ken has no penis. He is himself
a dick. "And Barbie's a blond dipshit!" my blond friend Rose D'Agostino,
the nicest person on earth, blurted aloud as we left the convention.
Bimbos and himbos. They will forever curse our existence, reminding us
of the cruel hierarchy of beauty and youth. But do we hate them because
they are beautiful and young?
Or do we hate them because they are plastic?
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